50 arresting Brutalist structures in the United States
Few movements in architectural history have been as polarizing as Brutalism. Enthusiasts are few and far between, but they work tirelessly to keep Brutalist monuments not just in the public eye, but out of the path of the wrecking ball.
Although the term “Brutalism” aptly reflects the school's characteristic hulking forms, it derives, in fact, from the French phrase “béton brut,” meaning raw concrete—the material favored by the incomparable Le Corbusier, architect of the seminal 1952 Unité d'Habitation apartment block in Marseille, France.
Less than a decade after its birth in Europe, Brutalist architecture could be found around the globe. A darling of Eastern Bloc nations during the Cold War, Brutalism also took hold in the United States during the 1960s, championed by Federal commissions. In addition to government buildings, the Brutalist aesthetic also infiltrated University campuses and spawned a large number of ecclesiastical edifices.
Although Le Corbusier is regarded by many as the father of Brutalism, it was Hungarian industrial-designer-turned-architect Marcel Breuer who made the most lasting impact on the American Brutalist landscape, erecting dozens of structures across the country. Although New York City's Whitney Museum decamped from its original Breuer-designed premises in 2015, the rechristened “Breuer Building” preserves the architect's legacy.
Other Brutalist buildings have not fared as well. As they approach late middle age, many Brutalist structures are now in a shocking state of disrepair. Unloved and unwanted, they risk demolition, clearing the way for new construction on what is often deemed valuable urban real estate. Sadly, a number of important Brutalist masterpieces have already been lost, including Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Women's Hospital in Chicago and Seattle's Moore House Annex, which previously housed a nuclear reactor on the University of Washington campus.
Stacker combed through the visual archives to create this carefully curated slideshow depicting 50 of the most arresting Brutalist structures in the United States. Scroll through the list and find out which master works by Le Corbusier, Breuer, Goldberg, and others have survived the test of time.
You may also like: States investing most in their schools' infrastructure
Tuskegee University Chapel: Tuskegee, AL
After a fire engulfed an earlier church in 1957, Tuskegee University commissioned native Alabaman Paul Rudolph to design a new house of worship, working collaboratively with African American architects Louis Fry, John A. Welch, and Moreland Griffith Smith. Completed in 1967, the building originally called for concrete. Cost considerations, however, necessitated that the chapel be built of bricks handmade by students from local clay.
Phillips Exeter Library: Exeter, NH
Designed by Louis Kahn in 1965, the award-winning Phillips Exeter Library is composed of three massive, concentric squares, each housing a distinct sphere of activity: carrel space, the stacks, and an inner atrium. The largest secondary school library in the world, it currently houses over 60,000 volumes.
Cadet Chapel: U.S. Air Force Academy, CO
The Cadet Chapel, designed for the U.S. Air Force Academy by Walter Netsch, is one of the more graceful exponents of the Brutalist movement. Constructed in the early 1960s, the chapel boasts aluminum spires that recall the silhouette of a jet fighter as well as the 13th-century Rayonnant buttresses of the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. Plagued by a leaky roof, the chapel currently faces restoration costs in excess of 25 million dollars.
The National: Leesburg, VA
Designed by Vincent Kling and Partners, The National (previously known as the National Conference Center), was constructed in 1974 as a training facility for the Xerox Corporation. In an effort to warm up the Brutalist building's “hard edges”, a warm-and-fuzzy 2018 makeover featured the application of murals depicting local woods and waterways.
Geisel Library, UC San Diego: La Jolla, CA
Named for La Jolla native Theodore Geisel (better known to children around the world as author and illustrator Dr. Seuss), UC San Diego's Geisel Library first opened its doors to students in 1970. The surprisingly whimsical concrete and glass structure, evocative of an overgrown mushroom, houses an impressive collection of original drawings and other Dr. Seuss memorabilia.
Temple Beth Zion: Buffalo, NY
After a fire destroyed Temple Beth Zion's original synagogue in 1961, architect Max Abramovitz was selected to design a new house of worship constructed from more sturdy materials, notably limestone and concrete. The new, circular structure, dedicated in 1967, contains a wall of sapphire-hued stained glass created by artist Ben Shahn.
Rudolph Hall, Yale University: New Haven, CT
One of the earliest examples of Brutalism in the United States, Yale's Rudolph Hall was designed by Paul Rudolph. Completed in 1964, the multi-storey, concrete structure originally housed the university's architecture department.
Boston City Hall: Boston, MA
Ever since its construction in 1968, Boston's City Hall has been a source of contention in Beantown. Hailed by some as a masterpiece of modern architecture, the concrete monolith has been scorned by others as the “ugliest building in America.” The nine-story, 515,000-square-foot edifice was the brainchild of Columbia professor Gerhard Kallmann and graduate student Michael McKinnell.
Fall River Government Center: Fall River, MA
A glass-and-concrete cube perched above I-95, the Fall River Government Center is one of the most recognizable Brutalist buildings in the United States. Plagued by issues since it opened in 1976, the building received a multimillion dollar makeover in 1978.
Fulton Central Library: Atlanta, GA,
Fulton Central Library is the final work of legendary Hungarian architect Marcel Breuer. Over a decade in the making, the building finally opened to the public in 1980, with Breuer passing away the following year. While other cities have pushed to bury their Brutalist monuments, an outcry erupted in 2016 when a proposal to demolish the beloved icon surfaced.